American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
May 14, 2018
by Carol Pardo
copyright © 2018 by Carol Pardo
The ballet "Giselle" is intended to be about its title character, a village girl who dies of a broken heart when she discovers that her beloved is a nobleman in commoner's clothing and betrothed to boot. Yet so great are her feelings for him that, from beyond the grave, she saves him from the Wilis, vengeful women who have died before their wedding days, Incel of the distaff side. The ballet's themes? Love betrayal and forgiveness. But at the center of this performance was Roberto Bolle's Albrecht, and brought to the fore the class distinctions that permeate the ballet. Perhaps the shift in emphasis was due to the fact that Giselle (Hee Seo) didn't come alive until act two. Perhaps experience tells. Bolle has danced the part innumerable times in a career that began more than twenty years ago. By now his Albrecht has been defined, refined and distilled.
Albrecht usually fits one of two types, Romeo on the Rhine, an impetuous youth so smitten that he is blind to the consequences of his actions, or Casanova in Cranach's clothing, who toys with the affections of a trusting young girl unaware of the rules of his game. Bolle straddled the two. Before kissing Giselle's hand (twice) he looked up into her eyes and held her gaze. Was he asking permission, as a nice guy would, or was he seeing how far he could go with the little goose-girl? When his cover was blown, he pulled himself together and considered whether he could bluff his way through this mess. Is this the reaction of someone caught out for the first time, novelty making him nervous? Or has this happened before and he's calling up reserves of experience? Bolle didn't throw out a hint either way. However, out of sight of Giselle, there was no question of his being a member of the ruling class, quite aware of social distinctions. Dismissing Wilfrid, Bolle's back was unyielding, implacable but not tense, his walk feline. Nothing more was needed; the squire knew both his master's moods, and his own place in the hierarchy. Hilarion, his rival for Giselle's affections, was a harder nut to crack, so Bolle raised his breastbone and strode forth, like the prow of a ship breaking the resistance of the water beneath it. The huntsman had no choice but to beat a hasty, if resentful, retreat.
With his height, broad shoulders, long legs and textbook line and placement, Bolle looks like a danseur noble. How then, to blend in with the peasantry? Bolle's solution was to keep everything low and small until his unmasking, suddenly looming like a Greek god (having grown a foot in a second, or so it seemed) as he mimed that he'd been out hunting. Change scale and you change class. And in act two he showed just how far yearning, love and a desire to live could release one from gravity.
In contrast, Hee Seo danced "Giselle" rather than inhabiting Giselle. The steps were there, but only once did this Giselle reveal any inner life. As she fitted herself against Albrecht's body, her head nestled against his shoulder like a kitten close to a hearth, part of her attraction to him became clear. Here was a male who would shelter and protect her, the child from a single-parent home. Seo's lightness served her well, both as she slid to the ground, dead of grief, in act one and throughout act two, but this was not enough to transform Giselle from a character to a human being, from two dimensions to three.
Gillian Murphy combined immaterial bourées and strong powerful jumps, her Myrtha both spirit and five star general. As Moyna, Katherine Williams blended lightness and authority, giving a hint of her Myrtha to come this week. Zhong-Jing Fang, with her beautiful shoulders and down-bent head, seemed still to be grieving for the wedding that might have been. Thomas Forster's Hilarion, his love not returned, was a deeply sympathetic character, in spite of his penchant for breaking and entering. Confronted by the Wilis, his line grew more classical as he danced closer and closer to death, an Albrecht in the making. In the 'Peasant Pas de Deux', Joseph Gorak's beautiful arms proved that some peasants are more noble than others though the actual steps were a struggle. His partner, Skylar Brandt, had her steps down pat and stunningly secure balances. But, there's more to "Giselle" than steps; for proof, just watch this Albrecht.
Photographs copyright © Gene Schiavone from top to bottom:
Roberto Bolle in "Giselle" Photo: Gene Schiavone.
Hee Seo in "Giselle" Photo: Gene Schiavone